With its brilliant, jewel-like hues and heavenly fragrance, a Navratan Pulao is as exquisite and appetizing as rice can get. Pair this classic north Indian dish with a spicy curry for a memorable meal. This vegan recipe is gluten-free and it can be nut-free and soy-free.
In our home, this pulao usually gets made on rushed weekend afternoons when I want to serve family or friends a delicious and even special meal — albeit one that comes together quickly with ingredients I likely have on hand.
If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, well, maybe this Indian rice dish is the exception to the expectation that anything fancy — one with regal antecedents to boot — has to take a day and a half and a list of ingredients as long as your arm to make.
And regal this dish definitely is, with roots in Mughlai cuisine — the food that was prepared for India’s ancient Mughal rulers. Those foods tend to be rather rich, with lots of nuts, dry fruits and dairy products like ghee and cream added, and they are always delicious. If you’re new to Indian food, or cannot tolerate spice, or if you just love Indian food in all of its magnificent diversity and deliciousness, this is a recipe for you.
There are spices in a Navratan Pulao, but they are whole spices, like green cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, which impart flavor without the heat. There is no chili pepper in this recipe. In fact, its flavor profile is rather a sweet one, with the nuts and the raisins and a touch of almond milk. And that’s exactly how you want it to be, especially if you are pairing it with a spicy curry, as you should.
What’s more, there are plenty of veggies in here, which makes it a really healthy recipe too. The regular version would have oodles of ghee, and probably some milk as well as paneer because, after all, it was meant to be eaten by kings and their ilk who probably lived to the ripe old age of 40.
Thankfully, in our modern world, we can aspire to a much longer and healthier life, especially because we know all about the damage these dairy products can wreak on our health. So for our vegan version of this pulao we will be using vegetable oil, nondairy milk and tofu, with no loss of flavor or deliciousness and lots of healthiness added in.
Tips for making the best and most flavorful Navratan Pulao:
- This pulao, although a special dish, is also a rather simple one, so all of the ingredients used here matter. The only thing I’d remove at a pinch is the tofu, although it adds to the layers of texture here, and adds good protein. That would also make this dish soy-free for anyone who doesn’t want to consumer soy.
- The veggies most often used in this pulao are potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, green peas and green beans. You can go with bell peppers, broccoli or any veggie that can cook fast enough without expressing too much moisture.
- You don’t need too many spices in your pulao, but the few we use are important and even indispensable. Add whole cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves — as well as some cumin — at the beginning, and finish off with saffron soaked in nondairy milk. These spices tie the veggies and the rice nicely together and are quite necessary.
- You need to precook your rice before you add it to the pulao. Cook the rice to about 80 percent doneness, so it doesn’t reduce to a mash when you mix it with the veggies and spices. The rice will continue cooking for a few more minutes after everything has mixed together.
- I like using vegetable stock when I make rice dishes, but this pulao is one where I break that rule. A Navratan Pulao is so delicately flavored that you don’t want the added complexity of the stock to be layered in. Water is perfect.
- Usually, Indian cooks use whole almonds in this recipe. I don’t like using whole almonds in recipes because they tend to be hard, so I use blanched, sliced almonds instead. But if you’d rather, go with whole almonds. If you want to make this nut-free, leave out the almonds and cashews and just use raisins.
What to serve with this Pulao?
Ingredients for the pulao:
- Vegetable oil
- Green cardamom
- Bay leaf
- Cumin seeds
- Green beans
- Green peas
- Nondairy milk
Looking for other tasty Indian rice recipes?
- Jeera Rice or Cumin Rice
- Coconut Rice
- Vegetable Biryani
- Pumpkin Biryani with Candied Cranberries
- Masala Khichdi
Navratan Pulao Recipe
- 1 1/2 cups basmati rice
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 green cardamoms
- 4 cloves
- 1-inch stick cinnamon
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 medium potatoes (cut into a fine dice)
- 2 medium carrots (cut into a fine dice)
- 2 cups green beans (chopped into small bits)
- 1/2 small head cauliflower (separated into small florets)
- 1 cup green peas (frozen)
- 16 oz baked tofu (use my recipe linked here or use storebought)
- 1/2 tsp saffron strands
- 1/2 cup nondairy milk (I use almond)
- 1/4 cup raw cashews
- 2 tbsp sliced almonds
- 2 tbsp golden raisins
- Bring a large pot of water to boil, lightly salt it, then add the rice and cook until the rice grains are almost tender but not fully cooked. Drain and set aside.
- Mix the saffron with the nondairy milk and set aside.
- Heat 1 1/2 tbsp oil. Add the cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf and cumin seeds. Stir-fry until the spices release their fragrance and begin to turn color.
- Add the potatoes, saute for 2-3 minutes, then add the carrots and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add the cauliflower and green beans and saute for a couple of minutes. Add green peas, then add some salt, cover the pot and let the veggies cook over a medium-low flame for about five minutes. Stir a couple of times to ensure they do not stick. You don't want the veggies to brown.
- When the potatoes are almost cooked and the cauliflower is al dente, mix in the rice, tofu cubes and the saffron in milk. Cover and let the rice continue cooking over low heat for 10 more minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1/2 tbsp oil in a small saucepan. Add the cashews and raisins to it, and finally the blanched, sliced almonds. Cook until the nuts are a light gold, then pour over the rice and mix.
- Serve hot.
- To make this recipe soy-free, leave out the tofu.
- To make this recipe nut-free, leave out the nuts. You can use apricots or another dry fruit along with the raisins. Also use a nondairy milk that’s nut-free.